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Shelf Reflection is a monthly series where we explore the bookshelves and reading habits of our featured First Book Club authors.

This month’s reflection is from Ruby Hamad, whose book White Tears/Brown Scars (MUP) is our October pick. Read Ellen Cregan’s review, and stay tuned for more throughout the month! 

What are you currently reading?

Transcription by Kate Atkinson. She’s easily one of my favourite authors and this foray into World War II-era espionage is done with her characteristic sardonic humour.

Borrowed or bought?

Bought! I saw it in the bookshop while browsing and didn’t think twice. Atkinson is a true master of her craft.

What kind of reader are you?

I’m very much a one-book-at-a-time reader as I like to immerse myself in only one particular world at a time (to escape from this one momentarily!). That said, when I’m making my way through a mountain of non-fiction for research, I do like to punctuate that with some novels. So I’m also reading Hegemony and Socialist Strategy by Ernesto Laclau and Chantelle Mouffe, which is not nearly as fun as Atkinson.

For a long time, I approached books like I approached films: once you started you were obliged to finish. And maybe that’s fine in your 20s when ageing and running out of time can seem like purely theoretical concepts! These days, I have no qualms about walking out of a cinema or giving up on a book a few chapters in. I rarely re-read books from cover to cover again, but one of my joys is to open up old favourites at random pages and relive the magic.

For a long time, I approached books like I approached films: once you started you were obliged to finish. These days, I have no qualms about giving up a few chapters in.

Given the focus of my own work, it may surprise some to learn that among my favourite authors is Thomas Hardy – yes, an old Dead White Guy. But you know, sometimes it’s meaningful to cross geographical, racial, gender, and time boundaries in search and recognition of that common kernel known as the human condition.

What does your book collection look like?

I try to organise my books according to genre, topic, and subject matter but really since I have way more books than shelf space at the moment, and I’m far too busy to fix this messy situation, my books are likely to be jammed wherever a space exists – a great deal of them are stacked on top of side tables and bedside tables and coffee tables. I will get it together one day and invest in some new space-saving shelving.

My collection is a mix of new and second-hand. These days I tend to have mostly new due to my PhD research and to being fortunate enough to be sent books from publishers and other authors.

My oldest book and the all-time prize in my collection is my favourite book as a child Here Comes Charlie by Lane Peters, which was published in the 1960s and which I have had since the mid-80s. It’s written from the perspective of an older sister about her bratty younger brother.​ I read that book so many times as a kid, my sister would get infuriated by it for some reason.

What’s one book you found critical to the writing of your own book?

This is such a hard question to answer as really there are two. The first is Orientalism by Edward Said which I first read as a post-grad journalism student around ten years ago. The other is far more recent: Kyla Schuller’s The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex and Science in the Nineteenth Century. I struggle to choose one above the other because Orientalism influenced the focus of White Tears/Brown Scars as an investigation into the power of representations, and Biopolitics of Feeling helped shape the content. Reading Schuller’s excavation of sex difference as a form of racialisation and function of white supremacy was the biggest light-bulb moment I had in the course of researching and writing my book. It is a true revelation and I cannot recommend highly enough.

I rarely re-read books from cover to cover again, but one of my joys is to open up old favourites at random pages and relive the magic.

If you had to pick one book to live in for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Oh gosh, does anyone want to live in a book, really? So many tragic things happen! That’s why they are so engrossing! But if I were so cursed I could do worse than Gibran’s The Prophet. Mostly because the older I get the more I feel the tragedy of being denied a connection to the homeland of my ancestors. Colonialism and imperialist wars have drifted us away from home in more ways than one, and sometimes I want nothing more than to find my way back.


I’m beside myself with excitement to be appearing The Wheeler Centre’s inaugural Broadside feminist festival to take place at the Melbourne Town Hall from November 9-11, 2019. I’ll be talking feminism and decolonisation with some absolute legends including Aileen Moreton-Robinson and Fatima Bhutto.

White Tears/Brown Scars is available now at Readings.